Sour Faced

There is an alarming trend creeping across the land that chills me to the core; it is becoming impossible to get vinegar to go with your chips when eating out…

It doesn’t seem to matter whether you are having skinny little frites or chunky chips stacked up like edible Jenga, the vinegar bottle is increasingly out of sight. I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to my chips and I like them piping hot with a healthy slug of malt vinegar and a sprinkling of salt, but I am all too often out of luck these days. The familiar Sarsons bottle rarely makes an appearance, but chips now come ‘seasoned’ as standard allowing no choice in how much salt one wants.

This annoyance has been niggling me for a while, but was brought to a head recently at Hive Bar in Brixton when both the burger and the accompanying skinny fries were so salty it was if the chef had fished them out of the Dead Sea rather than the fridge. The supposedly garlic fries came heavily dusted with commercial Cajun seasoning instead and had been salted as well. There was no vinegar around and a request for it with met with blank indifference. I managed about half of the chips before retiring, defeated, to quaff water endlessly. They would have been too salty no matter what, but a slug of refreshingly tart vinegar could have at least lifted them into edible territory.

I complained about this general lack of vinegar to my friend who I was dining with and was shocked to hear that Burger King has stopped supplying sachets of vinegar to go with its fries. I can’t help but think of the non-vinegared French fry as an American import (even though I know most Europeans don’t do it either) and am annoyed to see the decline of local custom being perpetuated by big multi-national firms. But I am more saddened to see it happen in local British businesses where it doesn’t interfere with the authenticity of the cuisine, especially when Nando’s happily provide it.

The lack of vinegar on chicken shop chips is just one more reason to avoid eating in a branch of Morleys. But one really doesn’t expect decent cuisine or much choice from somewhere that sells two pieces of chicken and chips for £1.99. I do however expect choice in a sit down place with real cutlery, but despite a growing love of condiments in the UK, vinegar seems to have become an old fashioned interloper, like the maiden aunt no one wants to invite to the wedding, usurped by sweet chili or sweet and sour sauce.

As someone fairly apathetic to other condiments apart from an occasional dalliance with mayonnaise on chips if I’m feeling Continental, I feel slightly cheated that my choice of condiment seems to be being phased out in the world of restaurants. Luckily it shows no sign of disappearing from the remaining proper chippies in Britain. I guess I’m just to going to have to force my myself to down a few more fish suppers.

What say you? Is vinegar essential to a good chip? Are your tastes fancier than a slug of Sarsons? Do you like to be offered the choice? Is the pre-seasoning of chips just a cunning ploy to get you buy more drinks? Or am I just turning into Disgruntled of Brixton?

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4 replies
  1. Adriana
    Adriana says:

    Slightly unexpectedly, given the tsunami of American influences on food culture, Canada is decidedly pro-vinegar. I mean, emphatically so. To an even greater degree than here in the UK, which I find slightly disconcerting. You see, I’m a strict segregationist where fries and vinegar are concerned: chips get the Sarson’s, but thin fries never, ever should. That’s just WRONG.

    So when I’m sharing a companionable bowl of lovely crispy golden fries with a friend in Toronto, I have to be on vigilant, watchful guard against the swooping vinegar bottle. A quick karate-chop to my companion’s jugular usually does the trick, but you have to be quick about it. Chips, fine. Douse away. Drown ’em. But stay away from my fries with your demon acid, South. You’ve been warned…..

  2. GStefani
    GStefani says:

    Chip, fries, frites; no matter what you prefer to call them or where you choose to eat them, should always come with malt vinegar. The British public has overwhelmingly embraced the European appetite for mayonnaise as a dip for their fries. At the risk of sound a trite Nick Griffin, I like some British traditions and will forever more be slugging the Sarson’s with passion. GSx

  3. miss_south
    miss_south says:

    I am suitably warned. But we should be fine…I rarely share chips or frites or fries or any golden crispy fried form of spud. They are all mine!

  4. Mister North
    Mister North says:

    I’m sometimes guilty of squeezing lime juice over my chips at home… but nothing beats the aroma and excitement generated by proper fish and chips, soused in Sarsons!

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